A Taste of... The Fairytale Killer (E&M Investigations Prequel) by LJ Bourne
I try to remember how I got here. But the icy cold spread all over my body in seconds. The last thing I promised myself before even the fuzzy, round lights of the world faded to black, was that I’d remember the way, that I’d fight unconsciousness and know where he took me.
Instead, I woke up lying on a thin, bumpy mattress, its twisted and bent coils poking me in the back and legs. My head is resting on a hard, thin pillow, which is already making the back of my head and neck ache. I’ve been here a while. The drugs are wearing off.
But I can’t move.
My wrists and my ankles are tied to the edges of the bed, the bindings soft against my flesh, but unrelenting to my attempts at breaking free.
I see nothing either.
The blindfold is thick, wide, and soft, its edges tickling the bridge of my nose.
Smell and hearing are the only two senses left to me.
And they’re not telling me much.
A faint scent of snow, pristine and deep, hangs over the room. I can smell the mildew and damp of the mattress and old sweat on the pillow, sour and nasty. The room itself smells of dust and wood. Not dirt, but I can tell the room hasn’t been cleaned properly in a long time.
Another kind of smell grows thicker from time to time before fading away. It reminds me of raw meat.
The silence in my prison is so thick it’s like a blanket over my head. I can hear the wind rattling against the window, making it chime, the way the messed up window in my apartment chimes. When that happens, the smell of snow intensifies and a freezing cold draft wafts over my bare legs and arms.
If I could get free of my restraints, I could escape out that broken window.
But I can barely move my arms more than a centimeter in each direction.
He called me Snow White.
And that’s the only thing I remember clearly.
Three articles to finish, or I don’t eat, but instead of writing, I’m staring out the uncurtained window behind my desk and open laptop, focused on the softly falling snowflakes, some as big as half my palm. And I’m not thinking about writing either. I’m thinking about what it’d be like to watch these same snowflakes leaning on Mark’s wide chest, his arm wrapped loosely around me. Maybe we’re sitting on a soft, fluffy rug in front of a roaring fireplace in some mountain cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by soft snow and silence.
I curse, shake my head and look back down at the blinking cursor in the middle of a blank page. If I don’t finish this article and mail it today, I’ll be feeling the fat snowflakes falling directly on my head. Outside. In the cold. While I’m begging for change in Alexanderplatz, hoping some of the thousands of tourists there will take pity on me.
Lucky for me the article I’ve started working on today is a filler piece and I could write it with my eyes closed.
Tomorrow—today when this article will be published—it will be six months since the last of the princesses were found. Deathly pale, wearing gowns of silk, their eyes forever closed. Cinderella wearing a pink ball gown and one transparent plastic shoe, that was specific enough to give the police hope it will be traced easily, but wasn’t.
Sleeping Beauty with her golden blonde hair neatly curled in the style of a Victoria’s Secret model, wearing a translucent pale blue night gown, her hands neatly folded across her perky breasts and a glass tiara in her hair. She was found in the tallest tower of the American Church in Berlin, lying on the floor, but positioned exactly like the picture in the fairytale book my grandpa used to read to me when I was young.
In real life, Cinderella was Mona Florescu, who came to Berlin at seventeen from a village in Bulgaria to find a better life. By nineteen, she was working the streets. By twenty, she was immortalized as the first victim of the man who soon became known as The Fairytale Killer, the most twisted serial killer Europe has ever had.
Sleeping Beauty was Lara Dunholm, a Nordic beauty queen looking for a career in modeling. She came from Denmark when she was eighteen, trusted one too many false modeling agents, ending up addicted to heroin, and working the streets as a prostitute of the lowest standing. Most often, she found clients among truckers at the big gas stations on the wide highways leading into Berlin. Not the night she disappeared though. No camera at any of the gas stations she frequented showed her that night. Another dead end. Another hopeful trail gone cold. No kiss would ever wake her.
Both were poisoned with a lethal dose of valerian and benzodiazepines. Both were bled until not a drop of blood remained in their veins. Both were raped after they died. No prince charming came to their rescue.
Instead of waiting for the next princess to show up dead, the police took matters into their own hands, by getting the prostitutes—all prostitutes off the streets and heavily policing the areas where they made their money. Cruel or not to take away their only means of survival, the murders stopped.
They also brought in all the experts far and wide to hunt down the savage man behind the killings. The man who took such perverse pleasure in taking young lives, while twisting the happy, gentle memory of everyone’s beloved fairytales beyond recognition.
As always, when I get to this point in the story, I have to stop and get up to stretch. Get out of my own head until my thoughts are clear. This is the place where what this sick man is doing really hits home. He’s shredding happy memories of not just my childhood fantasies, but also of sitting on my grandpa’s lap, looking at the beautiful pictures of gorgeous princesses while he reads the story.
One of the outside experts they brought in was Mark. He’s a Special Investigator for the Criminal Investigations Departement of the US Military, stationed in Berlin. He’s something of a legend over there, having solved a number of high-profile cases involving US Military personnel. That’s at least part of the reason the German police were so ready to allow him to help them search for this serial killer. Not that Mark brags about it, or even talks about his career as an investigator much. But I know about it because I did some digging into his resume before we started dating.
There was little evidence to tie these crimes to a US soldier stationed here, but still enough of them for the US Military to get involved. As Mark later told me, after we got to know each other very well while I followed the case for at least five international newspapers who wanted someone on the ground, in the heart of things, but had no money to send their own reporters.
Mark was brought in mainly, because no one, especially not the local press, could imagine one of their own countrymen capable of such savagery. Serial killers like this only emerged in America. Everyone knows that. So it followed that the American military, which keeps a large presence here had to somehow be involved.
I said as much in some of my articles, though not in quite such cynical terms.
The six-month break in the killings could well indicate a soldier is behind them. Someone who has now been sent elsewhere. Mark is worried about that. I have not mentioned that possibility in any of my articles. Mainly from loyalty to Mark and his willingness to share his thoughts on the matter with me off the record. But also because I don’t want to cause panic in England and Italy and wherever else the US has their bases. Somewhere in the US, if nothing else.
It could also be that he’s been locked up for some other crime and is safely behind bars for now.
That’s the hopeful note I’ll end this six months later filler article I’m writing.
It’s hard to peel my eyes away from the window, though. Twilight has gathered into a twinkling early evening, the streetlamps come on, prompting me to make a wish, which I forget the instant the light causes everything to sparkle, the snowflakes, the windows, the open umbrellas, and car windows below my fourth-story windows.
I think I wished for the killings to stop for good.
But I also wished for Mark not to be late picking me up tonight. We’re going to a new Afghanistani restaurant that I’ve been dying to try since it opened a month ago. Actually, I’ve been dying to gaze into his soft brown eyes, which I bet will sparkle just as magically as the street outside. He’s been away, working on a new case for two weeks now. In Kosovo of all places, but he called early this morning, to tell me he’s returning this afternoon if the weather holds.
It held, and I hope he was on one of the planes that made it out of Pristina Airport before the smoggy fog made them close it down again.
I make myself another cup of coffee and bring my laptop to the kitchen table, facing away from the window. I need to finish the article, therefore I don’t need any more distractions. Or else, I’ll be the one canceling our plans for tonight. And in the stage of fuzzy-eyed falling in love I’m currently in, I’d prefer to live out on the street before I let that happen. I don’t remember the last time a guy caused this kind of fog in my brain. It might not have happened before in more than twenty years since I first noticed boys.
* * *
The doorbell rings at exactly eight-thirty and I do ask who it is, but buzz him in before he can say. Then I open my front door, my heart pounding as his footsteps echo in the cavernous halls of this old mansion converted into an apartment building where I rent an apartment. My heart’s racing and my face is flushed and hot despite the cold. It’s impossible to heat the hallway and staircase of this old, high-ceilinged building, mostly because the narrow and long radiators under the huge widows on each landing are more often than not cold for one reason or another. It’s not much better with the radiators in my apartment.
He’s barely winded as he finally reaches my floor—fourth and last. I don’t actually remember ever being this excited waiting to see someone, and this happy when I finally do, though I’m sure it’s happened before. Just not with any of the guys I date.
His smile is wide and open and makes his chocolate brown eyes shine amber in the dim orange light in the hallway. His slightly wavy, brown hair is combed very neatly today, and he had it cut while he was away.
“You’re late,” I chide while he approaches, smiling just as wide, hoping the little tears of joy forming in the outer corners of my eyes won’t mess up my makeup. I’ve always been a do-your-makeup-in-five-minutes-or-less kind of girl, but I’ve been trying a lot harder for Mark. Not that he ever notices and not that he doesn’t most often tell me I’m beautiful in the mornings when my hair’s all messed up and my mascara smudged.
“I came as soon as I could,” he says, still smiling. “Trust me, I wanted to be here as soon as I got off the plane this morning.”
That’s one thing I love about him. He gets my humor and he doesn’t get offended at every little criticism, slight or not. What I meant is that we agreed to meet at seven, but he had something come up and had to postpone, which he told me ahead of time and apologized for.
“No matter,” I say once he’s finally standing close enough to touch. “At least this way, I had enough time to make myself pretty.”
I tried hard. I’m wearing a tight, ankle-length black sweater dress, made of a cashmere and merino wool blend. It hugs where it’s supposed to hug and is loose where it’s supposed to hide things. It’s also as thin as cotton, but warmer than fleece. I spent a fortune on it, but I couldn’t not buy it after I tried it on. I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to walk in the high-heeled, knee-high boots I’m also wearing, given that the sidewalks are probably wet and sludgy from those pretty, large snowflakes that fell all day, but just that sharp, edgy desire in his eyes as they rake over me will make it worth it.
“You always look good,” he says.
He’s carrying a plain navy blue gift bag in one hand, but wraps the other around my waist, pulls me closer, and leans down to kiss me. That’s another thing I love about him. He takes what he wants, when he wants and doesn’t waste time on awkwardness or self-consciousness, or any of the other uncomfortable little things that make new, budding relationships so tedious. And what’s even better, I know he’d look at me just as lustfully and kiss me just as deeply even if I was still wearing my sweats and the long thick woolen cardigan I never take off during the winter months, with my hair in a messy bun and no makeup, which is how I spent the whole day.
“I brought you gifts,” he says, handing me the blue bag, as he leads me back into my apartment, his hand still resting on my lower back. Even with my highest heels on, he’s still half a head taller than me and since the very first time we kissed, I’ve had the distinct feeling that I’ll never be alone now that he’s here to watch my back. Which is nonsense, since I love being alone. I think better when I’m alone. But that’s another thing. I think very well when I’m with him too.
“Gifts as in more than one?” I ask, taking the bag and carrying it to the kitchen table where the light is better.
I pull out the bottle first, obviously. “Ooo, Rakia. How did you know?”
He shrugs, grinning at me as he leans on the arched doorway that leads from the hall to the kitchen. “Because you told me.”
“And baklava,” I say, the excitement in my voice not even a little bit faked. “The kind with pistachios. The best kind!”
It’s not like you can’t get baklava in Berlin, but it’s just not the same as the true, back-home kind.
“I’ll have to take your word on that,” he says, peeling off the wall and walking closer. “I really dislike pistachios.”
“That’s perfect. It leaves more for me,” I say and wrap my arm around his waist. “Thank you.”
That’s another thing. His gifts are never roses or stuffed animals, or pretentious bottles of champagne or wine, both of which I dislike. It’s always something he knows I’ll like because I mentioned it in passing. One of the first things he ever gifted me was a set of those sinfully expensive pens that I always lust over, but never buy because I can’t justify the expense since I do all of my writing on my laptop and cheaper pens do the job just fine. He hears, notices, and remembers everything. And that’s why I completely believe him when he says the things he says.
That and the kisses. Those are perfect too. I could spend the entire night just kissing him.
And we very nearly do.